The world considers marriage to be an avenue to satisfaction for self. The view seems to be from the standpoint of seeking fulfillment in pleasure, companionship, what “I” can get out of it, and how “I” can benefit from it. These are, of course, parts of a relationship, but not the main parts. People get confused, disillusioned, and eventually give up on marriage because the above aspects are not being fulfilled to their satisfaction and expectations. Thus, they are negating what is really important and meaningful in building a marriage!
This article is part three of a four part series on how to find the love of a lifetime. In this part, it is my goal to show the main viewpoints and directions that the Lord gives us from His Word, so we can better prepare for the second most important thing we will ever do in life (the first being our salvation). So, let us look at how to prepare for a successful marriage.
If you want to be successful in life and marriage, you need to get this point: The primary purpose of marriage is not to please ourselves (yeah, that surprised me too!), but to glorify and serve God. Our desires and pleasures are not God's number one priority! Yes, God wants us to be joyful, happy, and content, but being happy means being focused on Him and not on our circumstances (James 1: 2-8). Thus, to have a successful marriage, you must be aware of what you are getting into and prepare for it. The most important guarantee for it to work is to follow His principles from His Word, not what you think, want, or have experienced. Remember, God designed marriage, and us. So, He knows best!
This may not sound politically correct, but it is true. The Bible says that God created Eve as a “helpmeet.” This means she was to help Adam perform his duties of working the garden and exercising dominion over the earth. It also means there was a co-relationship for mutual beneficiation, so both could be a team, fulfilling their purpose together. Love, intimacy, and pleasure were certainly a part of it, but not the main part of their relationship and life. They did not just frolic around paradise in bliss, playing, and enjoying each other. They shared a common purpose as well as a common direction. So must we! We cannot just seek someone because they catch our eye and negate the process of knowing them and ourselves better. If we do that, as most people do, we will have a 50% failure rate. We would be very, very lucky to find happiness and contentment. If we just spend a little more time working on our relationship with each other, we will be miles ahead of the game of life and would enjoy a much happier and purposeful life that would please God and make us happier.
When we lose sight of our purpose, what God calls us to in life or in marriage, we will fall into a life of despair, not achieving desired fulfillment. When we follow His precepts, we will find the right person, stay on the right path, and experience the ultimate pleasure and fun. The irony about society is it seeks all these without God. Therefore, people become disillusioned and angry with God when they do not get them. In addition, many single Christians, for the most part, do the same!
Preparing for Marriage from the perspective of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Peter 3:1-7)
The theme of these passages is submission, a far cry from the American ideals of personal freedom and choice. However, consider this. Submission is not the tyrannical concept most of us harbor in our mind. Rather, it is freedom! It allows us to be free, and to have the best flowing in and out of us. It is a safe harbor of smooth waters keeping us protected from the storms of wrong actions. It frees us from bad thinking that leads to bad choices that lead to a life of misery and trouble! Wives are asked to submit to their husbands. Husbands are asked to love their wives. "Submit" translates from a military term (Eph. 5:22 Greek: hupotasso), which means "to place under" or "to subordinate" as a line relationship (1 Peter 3:1). This is not because of weakness or inferiority, or that one is better or than the other, but because God has placed, in the order of creation, the husband as head of the home, just as Christ is the Head of the Church. They have different roles, yet each one is equal in the sight of God!
Submission is not to exceed the parameters of the Will of God or of love and righteousness. To prove this, submission is not an excuse to batter or put wives down in any way. The directive to husbands is even more daunting. Husbands are called to love, which is greater than submission! Keep in mind; this was called for in a time and culture that considered women lower than farm animals! It was taught in a culture where the “alpha” male, i.e. the lead man of the family, ruled in absolute dominance for order, organization, structure, protection, and community. The mandate to love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) was and still is to some an extreme wakeup call that commands the husband to thoroughly exhibit all of the qualities of Biblical character in his relationship with his wife. The verb (Greek: agapete) designates a continuous routine of action all of the time, not just when we feel like it. Christ loved the church not because it was holy, but in order to make it holy! Thus, we are not only called to find the person who is best for us, but to work at keeping the relationship within the parameters of love, submission, and commitment. Even if you made that wrong choice through impatience, wrong thinking, lust, and/or sin, you still have the call and opportunity to make it right, to make it work with the mate you have! After all, there must have been some spark, something that got you together in the first place, that can be rekindled.
Christ and the Church are the prime models for us in a lifelong commitment of monogamous marriage. He did not give up on us when things went from bad to worse, His grace, forgiveness, and perseverance came through. It is the model relationship for the home, for the love of children, and the fellowship and relationships we are to have. The Church is the bride of Christ, whom He loves. Your spouse, or spouse to be, is your bride or groom where righteousness, love, commitment, and holiness are to be practiced and exercised to the best and fullest possible for you (Revelation 21:1-2)!
Building your Future Relationship and Love
Here are some important things to consider, which may go against your conventional thinking, experience, and practice. Yet, these characteristics are very important, and Biblical, so, be willing to think them through as you read His Word, pray, and apply these to your relationships now, and to come.
In your search for the love of your life, you have to be willing to work on yourself. You are not perfect! Only Christ is! You have a whole host of faults and quirks that are unsuitable for public viewing or private relationships. We all do! Therefore, you have to be willing to put off arrogance and pride to address your faults and work them out with God and a pastor or counselor if necessary. Your potential mate has to be willing to do the same. If not, you will keep your bad patterns of behavior and they will just get worse as your denial gets stronger, and both of you will clash to the point you will not be able to make it work. Now, neither you nor your love to be has to be perfect, you just have to be willing and open to grow and develop into a spiritual and emotionally mature Christian.
You cannot expect a future marriage partner to fulfill you needs in any area instead, or in place of God!
Because we are seeking God’s standards, we need to be looking for someone who has a growing relationship with God. You both need to be seeking to please, and grow in, Christ. Both of you must have, at the foundation of your life, Jesus as your Lord, not just your Savior. This means you are ruled by His standards and precepts, not your own selfish inclinations and motives. Both of you need to be enthusiastic about growing closer to God, enjoy going to church, enjoy serving God and others, and be a faithful and diligent member of a church. Given this, both of you should be of the same theological thinking. The combination of a Catholic and a Protestant never, ever works. One will have to give up his/her faith, or both, and when the children come, all hell will break loose! Even courting/dating across denominational lines can be sticky, as one will eventually have to leave and go to the other. Thus, you both have to be willing to endure this and, of course, be on your knees during such decisions. One of you may even have more passion for the Lord than the other, because experience, growth, and personality come into play. As you get to know each other, these things come out and you work through them. You do not have to agree with every point of doctrine. If both people agree completely, then one of you is not thinking! Just be sure you can agree to disagree and the disagreements are not about essential doctrine. You should also have similar views of society and the world (Amos 3:3).
Be careful in a relationship with people of different economic, social or ethnic backgrounds. These relationships have more hurdles to get over and require more work and maturity, not only with the two of you, but also with the families of both. I am definitely not saying to stay away, or that these are wrong. My wife and I are different on each category, and we had to jump over many more problems with our families and social stigma than in a normal (what ever that is) relationship.
Another thing you need to do before marriage is be accountable to someone, perhaps those in a small group. You will grow and change best and faster by having someone who knows you to push, encourage, and challenge you in the right direction and in the Word.
Before you are engaged, you should hide some of your more expressive emotions and feelings in your hearts. Expressions such as saying "I love you," kissing, and making out will move the relationship to be emotionally based and not relational. You will be clouded from growing deeper and building a better relationship. Such feelings need to be real and truly expressed with passion and conviction, and not out of guilt or obligation. Most people use these words and touches to manipulate the other to get what they want, and are unconcerned with building a real relationship. This must not be your motivation! When you express too much emotion or do not set boundaries with physical contact before engagement, they will become rhetoric, losing their power and meaning. You will have built where you should not have, short-circuiting your real emotional expressions and love, exchanging a quick and short lustful present for a life-long love covenant. Remember, love is patient!
Make sure both of you know how money works. Have a good Biblical concept on how to deal with budgeting and debt. Most conflicts in marriage deal with finances! If one or both of you have a lot of dept, either credit cards or student loans, you must have a plan to pay them off, preferably before marriage if possible. Make sure you have solved any spending problems and money management issues. If just one of you cannot do this, you will have an immense amount of unnecessary problems in your marriage.
You must deal with any potential problems involving character, bitterness, unrepentant sin, absence of forgiveness, abuse, lust, past struggles, and emotional problems. If you do not address these issues before marriage, the probability of the relationship working is extremely rare. But, it is not necessary to seek perfection. No one can do that, except Christ. You just need to be on the right track, and have a strong willingness and commitment to change. Moreover, allow Christ to work in you!
When you are going out with someone in courting, get feedback from mature friends, people who are older and wiser, and most importantly from your parents. You may think –OH NO! But consider this, they know you better than you know yourself. You will not realize this until after you have kids. Be discerning. If your parents are not spiritually mature or in tune with Christ, they may not be giving good advice, just as if you are not in tune with the Lord. You do not just look to one source of feedback. Consider all the possibilities and be willing to not let your emotions and lust cloud your thinking.
If one of you does not embrace any of the points we have talked about so far, you will have an extreme strain on your relationship. The odds of success are a 50% divorce rate, and of the marriages that are left, mostly are miserable! So, consider how important it is to get your act together before you say, “I do!”
How to set Boundaries (Hebrews 13:4)
We have already talked about why we should set boundaries. Now, how do we do it? One teenager once told me, cold showers, and lots of ice. I think he was kidding, but a better method would be discussing how far will be too far, then both of you agree to it and then stick to it. Yes, this is hard. However, with an agreement in place, it is much, much easier.
The main areas of physical contact in order of their usual occurrence are: holding hands, hugging, kissing (standard, then French), making out, oral stuff, and then intercourse. Some go even further with multiple partners and other extreme events. (Now, off the bat, Christians must never practice these last two, married or not!) Each of these “contacts” leads to the next. Therefore, you should draw your line one step away from the absolute “no go line.” For my wife and me, we drew the line at hugging. Therefore, we did not kiss until we were engaged and did not go further until we got married. This worked great for us, and I highly recommend keeping kissing off limits until after engagement! Know this for making your line: making out will lead to intercourse. Maybe not the first or second time, but after 20+ years of counseling singles, I have never known it not lead to sex at some point! It just gets too tempting, too heated. Then, if both of you lose control…. So, choose with Godly principles in mind, as if Jesus is there, because He is!
God designed sex and the various forms of expressing intimacy. So, we are not to fear them, but honor them in their proper place--the marriage bed! He desires us to lead Godly, virtuous lives and not tempt our friends, date, or even ourselves (wrong thinking to pornography).
Even if you are definitely going to be married, do not cross that line. The line will be used to develop trust and lasting intimacy. Love is patient! In addition, if you are not sure, then you must not cross that line because that may not be your future wife or husband. You will be sinning against God and someone else’s future spouse! How would you like someone making out with your spouse when you are married? You would be incensed, extremely angry, and hurt! Well, that is what you are doing! In God’s eyes, timing is irrelevant!
· Make a commitment to each other and God before the emotions start! Perhaps when you start getting serious, or even after the third time you go out, you can start to talk about it, so it clears the air and the expectations. Something such as, “I do not believe in kissing until I’m engaged,” will eliminate the pressure and expectations!
· Have the mindset of how would you would expect someone else to treat your spouse. Then treat that person that way! Make sure it is Biblical and not lustful or carefree!
· Stay in public places. If you are in a room, keep the door open!
· Have someone keep you accountable!
· Here is Billy Graham’s rule that kept him scandal free all the years of his ministry: “Never be alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex (unless it is your wife).” He always takes a friend along with him when he travels. Why? To avoid any allegations of impropriety, and to protect him from seductive woman!
· Avoid physical orientated romantic relationships completely until you are ready to commit to marriage. Only engage the romance after your commitment. You will have the pleasure of building a meaningful lasting romance with the one person with whom you will spend the rest of your life!
· Ask yourself in dating, is this all about honoring and glorifying God? Do nothing you do not want to do in front of Christ! Are you trying to get as close as possible to God, or just trying to get in someone’s skirt/pants and what is that going to get you in eternity and in your future marriage?
A look at the book of love, the Song of Solomon
The Bible is not a book on sex. However, it does contain a complete theology of sexuality. It’s purpose, intent, warnings against it’s misuse, and a beautiful picture of true love and intimacy, the ideal physical relationship, is set forth in the beautiful poetry of the Song of Solomon.
We can learn a lot from the book of the Song of Solomon, sometimes called the Song of Songs. Unfortunately, it is rarely used as sermon material. It comes right after Ecclesiastes and before Isaiah. It has the language of a love song or poetry. You may not fully understand the language, as your mind may fixate on, how beautiful can a flock of goats be!? Just remember, in the Hellenistic culture, these images were beautiful. Many scholars see this book as a collection of various love poetry either written by and/or collected by Solomon. This poetry expresses an intimate expression of true love to one’s love of his life, Solomon to his love, a humble maiden, a Shulamite girl. It chronicles his adventure of love through all of the joys and tribulations of courtship to marriage. Jewish tradition sees this book as God’s love for Israel, while Christians through the centuries saw this as God’s love for the Church (John 14: 21-24; Eph. 5:23-33).
This book gives us the importance and wonder of a commitment of love that lasts. As God’s love lasts for us, our love must last for our spouse, the sanctity of marital love. This book does not shy away from the difficulties and realities of love and commitment, which makes it a wondrous example for us from which to learn.
The Song of Solomon has four main precepts for us:
1. To respect and honor the divine institution of marriage. It is not to be taken lightly or for granted. It is not something that is temporary until something or someone better comes along. It is the uniting of one man and one woman in love, a romance that lasts, even through the difficult times. Solomon started out in this mindset and practice, but eventually succumbed to hundreds of wives and concubines. All he could think of was this one woman, and the regret in all of the mistakes he made!
2. This is the model of God’s love for Israel and the Church. We follow this model in both the preparation for marriage and in our marriage. It has the core elements of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace, all of which Christ did for us. It tells us how the relationship between a husband and wife should be!
3. This book translates to us a model for dating. It is an example on how we can be better at dating. We need to look at the person for whom they really are and seek them because of that, rather than lusting or for physical pleasures, which will only hide the real person.
4. Sex is designed for a proper place and time. God made sex. In and of itself, it is not evil or bad. However, it has the potential for great destruction. Outside of God's design, it becomes evil, brutal, distorts real love, and causes conflict-ridden relationships, disillusionment, and hurt.
The Song of Solomon gives us a good model for dating with the attitude of romance and getting to know the real person without the pretensions and games most people play--including Christians! The games we play create an atmosphere of distrust. We imagine an ideal person, and then project that fantasy onto the date. This continues through the process of going steady, becoming engaged, then into marriage. Thus, realty and truth are either absent or hidden behind what we want and desire. Just because we are in an exclusive relationship does not mean we are getting to know that person. In Biblical times, and what is still practiced in many eastern cultures today, is that a couple gets to know the other person by friendship or through family connections, where the person is already known--their personality, behaviors, likes, dislikes and such. Therefore, there are no pretensions or hidden agendas. Then, if the couple likes each other and the families agree, they are betrothed (engaged). The only physical things they can do together are communicating and getting to know each other better. By keeping away from the physical, the emphasis is on the building of a real relationship. This is still romantic, perhaps even more so, as wonder, excitement, and anticipation take the place of physical lust, which is what we have in our western culture.
Once the future marriage is defiled, it sets us up for all kinds of future problems. Communication, trust, and building a good relationship become lost or become very difficult. As the Word tells us, marriage must be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. This is not because He has unattainable standards, but because He knows what works, what is best, and what we should avoid (Hebrews 13:4).
The Bible calls us to purity within marriage. When we get too physical and do not set up standards for ourselves, we allow ourselves to be tricked into false intimacy. Thus, the real romance becomes skewed and lost, and our wonder, our real excitement--what is best--becomes defiled. That is why God wants us righteous with our current and future relationships, so when we are married, we will have a more solid marriage that will last, grow, and be much happier and joyful for us. Remember, God is the author of sexuality. In addition, He desires the expression of exclusive intimacy between a husband and wife. Adultery and premarital sex ruin our future relationship. When we have sex with someone, a bond is formed that will never be broken This is why sexual abuse is so painful for decades afterwards! When you have sex, you form a bond and that person is living in your brain, even past your 80's!!! Can you imagine an "ex" girlfriend or boyfriend living in your mind after you have broken up and hate each other? That is why so many relationships are messed up these days!!! We must keep God's standards or face God’s judgment; “Do not arouse love or awaken love until its proper time” (Song 3:4-5).
What the Song of Solomon translates to in dating: Dating can serve two roles in our American culture, a fun outing, or to seek a mate. This can be fun and enjoyment with friends. In your dating and courting ventures for seeking a mate, your goal is to look for the right person. You must not over emphasize what the media communicates to us, exaggerating the lust and flesh and denying the real relationship, which also denies the spiritual.
God’s plan for Christian marriage brings together both the spirit and the flesh, as in the "one-flesh" of the marriage ceremony. Real intimacy is the total uniting of two people, each one seeking to meet the needs of the other, not just his/her own. This cannot happen when sin of the misuse of sex, and not getting to know each other properly, gets in the way (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 5:15- 21; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Matthew 19:5).
A look at the book of Ruth
Boaz was a man of integrity who had the opportunity to take advantage of a young, pretty widow. Instead, he chose righteousness as he protected Ruth and looked after her needs. He made an extremely difficult situation for her easy by not seeking his comfort or lust, and, eventually enjoyed a beautiful marriage. If he had chosen the way of the world, he could never have had a good, enduring relationship with Ruth. Ruth, who remained faithful, would also have missed out on the relationship (Ruth 2:20; 3:10-11).
Boaz was the Kinsman-Redeemer for Ruth’s family. This means he was a close relative whose call and obligation was to come to the aid of a family member in distress. According to Levitical law, he could redeem property, family members sold into slavery, assets such as farm animals, and he could care for a widow, for orphans, and such (Leviticus 25:25-34; 27:9-33). However, in practice, this rarely occurred because greed took over and people took advantage of the weak and helpless. In the New Testament, Christ is our ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer, as He represents humanity and our bloodline (Matt. 1:1-17; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:16-17). He represents our need (John 10: 15-18; 1 John 3:16), and He has the resources (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
What the book of Ruth translates into dating: Christ is our Redeemer, and He does not take advantage of us or let us rot, as we deserve. Thus, in our dating relationships, we should also look to Boaz who was a righteous gentleman. He took it slow, got to know Ruth, and did not take advantage of her. This led to a better, stronger relationship, with romance and love entering at its proper time and place. In addition, Ruth did not fall to immorality and prostitution, nor take advantage of Boaz. Ruth and Naomi were attracted to the kindness and integrity of Boaz as he treated them both well. Boaz was attracted to Ruth’s humility and nobility. Thus, we are to be kind, listen, learn, not take advantage, care, share, and take care of each another! We are to be attracted to goodness and integrity, not looks, power, wealth, or position.
Next month we will conclude the series with, “Building a Good Relationship.”
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of ‘Into Thy Word Ministries, ’a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org